This month’s Apex Magazine cover artist is Dana Tiger, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and known for her watercolor, gouache, and acrylic paintings. Her work has been featured in galleries, universities, and Oklahoma state buildings, and the smooth lines of her piece “The Fire” grace this month’s cover.
APEX MAGAZINE: “The Fire” is made of clean lines and colors, with a nice flow of movement to entice the viewer into more complex interpretations. How do you balance the message you are offering to the viewer with the amount of imagery you paint, and have viewers interpreted it differently than you would have expected?
DANA TIGER: The swirling lines and colors attempt to allow an entrance for the viewer to witness the undercurrent or source of power that my people, the Muscogee People, have danced for since the beginning of our time. The fire or “Totkv” is eternal and burns, is honored, fed and respected each year. My message of continuance is conveyed through a balance of delicate lines and soft colors implying movement and rhythm crucial to the flow necessary to maintain the dance. The woman’s place is central and provides an undercurrent of strength, also eternal, in maintaining our ties to where we came from. A viewer is left to contemplate the historical, the mystical and the reality of a people.
AM: On your website, you mention your nonprofit organization, Legacy Cultural Learning Community. What impact has the organization had on the community, and on yourself? Where does art and painting fit in with encouraging the promotion of a culture?
DT: Legacy Cultural Learning Community grew out of need for a return to ways that strengthen us as individuals while learning skills and tribal teachings such as our Native languages. I was five when my father passed away, yet he left hundreds of examples of the beauty and reality of being an American Indian through his paintings and sculptures. He died very young, as did my brother Chris who was also an artist. I founded Legacy to bring skillful teachers with tribal knowledge to those who need to know the value and brilliance of their ancestors, while encouraging individual creativity. We plant, we paint, we laugh and learn together about the nature of good growth of our foods, arts, and selves. We share stories handed down from long ago and create art. We are growing corn and pumpkin with children from many tribes/Nations, living at an orphanage in my hometown. At the end of this year we will host a meal from the garden and an exhibit of the art made at our gallery.
AM: The bio page on your website explains that your family is a fully artistic one, between your father, uncle, and children. Do their particular styles, or even different media, affect your own works?
DT: All of the Tiger family members have a unique distinguishable approach to the art we create. My father could do it all effortlessly and created clay works, tempera and oil paintings, and sketches of whatever subject matter he chose. His masterful portrayal of our elders and children leaves the viewer a sense of powerful love. His otherworldly subject matter provides a connection to that love that continues on an unseen front. My uncle Johnny Tiger, Jr. was the one who laid the path for my siblings and I to be artists. His style was more bold in his portrayal of the Warrior spirit. He loved that my sister and I were physically strong and would take us all over the country to arm wrestling competitions.
My children are gifted artists. My daughter uses many colors, filling the canvas with a sense of youthfulness and intrigue sometimes pertaining to our cultural ways. My son has natural abilities to create anything in clay. Like my father he can, in a way that seems to be effortless, make sculptures move. I paint from the embodiment of the generations before me and the hope that lies in the ones who will continue on after me.
AM: The paintings on your website shift between media, including gouache and acrylic. As an artist myself, sometimes I feel a piece needs to be an ink, and other times I do an ink simply because that is what is on my desk at the time. When you get ready to paint something, are you already set with a specific media or does it depend on the image you have in mind? Or does it vary between pieces?
DT: I have a basket of paints that I can carry around with me if I choose, filled with gouache, watercolors, and acrylic. I tend to gravitate towards the gouache due to the flow I can get by adding water. I’ll let intuition tell me which to use. Sometimes I use both. A painting will let me know what it needs if the chemistry is right between me and me. I have to be on good terms with myself or at least willing to be guided a bit for it to work out.
AM: Your work features strong women, such as “Changing The Face of Leadership,” and the strength of women is highlighted throughout your galleries. How important is that message in the current world environment, and how can art be used to persuade others?
DT: My sense of womanhood is at the fore of my artwork. For years when I was young I did not choose to be an artist. Ultimately painting would be the way of my survival and now is my weapon for truth. The ability to recognize the historical strengths of those before us will help us to act on behalf of ourselves and others. There is a correct way of doing things. Those in power are not interested in those ways. Those of us who know the truth must keep painting, writing, and sharing the processes. I find myself in my yard a lot, looking at the plants, bugs, water, the flow of things. My daughter wants me to paint more, but I have to gear up. I know I have to make each moment count. I have Parkinson’s Disease so some moments are more fruitful than others. The defunding of women’s health initiatives, the lack of thought for our waterways, the disregard for education and an uplifting path for all people must be tended to. Who is going to lead this? I look to women like the ones I painted in “Changing the Face of Leadership” to show me the way. I garden with my grandson who is one year old. He already has had art tools in his hand. My heart knows that the mighty strength of women is a natural thing and my hope is that he will grow wise and strong in the dance of our people in which one day he will lead. This past weekend we attended our Greencorn Ceremony. My grandson went many times on his own little legs around the fire. The ceremony happens each year to mark a new beginning. I am thankful that the fire still burns and that I was there.
AM: Thank you to Dana Tiger for an insightful interview. Dana and her two children will be showing their work at the SWAIA Market in August, and in an art exhibit at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center & Garis Gallery of the American West in Duncan, Oklahoma next year. Her father’s work will be featured in an upcoming show at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, from this August through May 2018.